Students in mandatory internships at Foxconn are paid, but program has dubious educational value
Sony has responded to allegations that unpaid interns were being forced to help build the PlayStation 4 in Foxconn factories.
Previous reports claiming that Chinese students were being forced to work as part of a program with Xi'an Institue of Technology proved to be a bit exaggerated, as although the students were forced to work night and overtime shifts they were paid just like regular workers.
Sony has been quick but careful in responding to the allegations, pointing out that it has a policy that lays out the sort of behavior it expects of its manufacturing partners.
“The Sony Group established the ‘Sony Supplier Code of Conduct’ in June 2005 with the expectation of every supplier agreeing and adhering to the policies of the Sony Group in complying with all applicable laws, work ethics, labour conditions, and respect for human rights, environmental conservation and health and safety,” Sony told Develop sister site MCV in a statement.
“We understand Foxconn fully comprehend and comply with this ‘Sony Supplier Code of Conduct’.”
Though the company, which has also run into trouble over its treatment of workers building Apple devices and Nintendo's Wii U, isn't guilty of forcing students into unpaid positions, Foxconn admitted that the interns were having to work nights and overtime in violation of company policy.
“Immediate actions have been taken to bring that campus into full compliance with our code and policies, reinforcing the policies of no overtime and no night shifts for student interns, even though such work is voluntary, and reminding all interns of their rights to terminate their participation in the program at any time,” the company told Quartz.
It's unclear how the confusion over whether or not the students were paid began. The original sources were Chinese, so it could be the result of mistranslation, but that falls short when it's considered how many dual language sites reported the news.
Foxconn admits it's struggling to deal with China's shrinking workforce, and that it has several other similar programs throughout China.
The company claims the idea is to provide the students “with the opportunity to gain practical work experience and on-the-job training that will support their efforts to find employment following their graduation.”
This isn't an iron defense, since the interns aren't doing anything that directly relates to their majors but simply filling assembly-line positions.
“The young generation don’t want to work in factories, they want to work in services or the internet or another more easy and relaxed job,” Foxconn founder Terry Gou told the Financial Times.
“Many workers are moving to the services sector and, in the manufacturing sector, total demand is now more than supply.”
One question remains to be answered – that of the involvement of China's educational institutions in such programs.
While Foxconn maintains the students are free to leave, the students claim that the school-backed program is enforced by a six-credit penalty for dropping or refusing the internship which could prevent them from graduating.